The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
For most people, the last two years have been a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions with highs, lows, and everything in between. Our lives have been nothing like we’ve ever experienced before. With the daily news bringing us more changes and concerns, some people are really struggling to cope.
Here at REALSENSE, we’ve noticed a significant increase in demand from our customers for training courses that support Mental Health Awareness and employee wellbeing, showing us that staying well mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
With the festive season in full swing, according to the Mental Health Foundation, “Christmas can be a joyful time of year for some people, through connecting to people they love and joining in with celebrations. And it can be a hard time of year for others, through feelings of obligation and over-commitment to social plans, disruption in routine or an increase in feelings of loneliness and isolation”.
With this in mind, we’ve put together some that simple tips can help you feel more in control, reduce stress levels and help you take care of your mental health in the coming weeks.
Tips for Coping During the Christmas Period
Communicate / Manage Relationships
For many people, Christmas can be a time when difficult relationships are revisited and old tensions can resurface. As well as worrying about preparing and providing food and buying the best gifts, it can be a challenging time for people who have strained relationships with their wider family, those who suffer anxiety, or people with financial worries.
Set a baseline that feels comfortable for you; whether that’s setting a budget to spend on presents, asking your family to comply with Covid restrictions or letting colleagues know that you won’t be sending Christmas cards this year, anything that you can do to manage people’s expectations and avoid confusion is all beneficial to reducing your stress levels. Keep the lines of communication open.
Think in advance about how you might handle difficult conversations and practice how to ask someone to change the subject if there’s a topic you don’t feel comfortable with. Why not think about some answers you could give if there are questions you know might be asked that make you feel uncomfortable.
Think about easy group activities that everyone can get involved in that will help to reduce tension and provide a distraction from any controversial topics. And remember that it’s OK to let people know if you’re struggling and need help, whether that’s physically or emotionally.
Writing a ‘to do’ list can help many people to cope because it helps you to plan your time more efficiently. There’s a great deal of expectation at this time of year for things to be ‘perfect’ and many people find Christmas incredibly stressful with not enough time to get everything done. We can find ourselves juggling numerous tasks on top of an already busy work, home and social calendar. Evaluate the essential tasks, prioritise the things that really need doing, delegate jobs where possible and give yourself permission to say no to the rest and cross them off the list. More importantly, make sure your planning allows time for you to relax, rest and enjoy the season.
Remember that it’s not worth sacrificing your mental health in the pursuit of perfection.
Prioritise your own self-care by putting time aside for a hot bath, a nice walk, some exercise or to watch your favourite movie. Whatever helps you feel relaxed and content, remember this is your Christmas too.
Be Aware of Alcohol Intake
Studies show that more than one in five people have been drinking more since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic so be mindful of your alcohol intake over the Christmas period. We’ll be looking at this more detail in the new year when we relaunch our Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Online Training Course but it’s certainly something to be mindful of over the Christmas holidays. Drink Aware have produced 12 Tips to Stay Safe This Christmas to help you enjoy the Christmas holidays but keep your health risks from alcohol low.
Make Time For Exercise
Exercise can help combat stress by releasing endorphins (the body’s feel good hormone). Regular exercising over the festive period can help improve your mental health and ensure you’re less stressed and more able to cope with pressures and demands.
Find an activity you enjoy doing – walking the dog, raking leaves in the garden, a family walk in a frosty forest, anything that gets you up off the sofa and outside – even half an hour of exercise is really beneficial.
Working from home at Christmastime
For a number of our customers, working from home has now become a more permanent fixture of their lives and it works well. For others, the sudden move back to working from home with Christmas around the corner can be difficult to navigate.
We developed our Homeworking Online Training to support employees working from home and to help employers maintain their duty of care to all staff. The following hints and tips are aimed more specifically at supporting homeworkers although all of them are beneficial for anyone, wherever you may be working.
Stay in Touch
Keeping in touch with the rest of your team, whether that’s by email, phone or video call is really important. Human beings are social creatures and home working can feel especially isolating at this time of year. Why not suggest a team Christmas quiz or drinks on video call, or even meet a colleague face to face if you can, wrap up warm and go for a walk in the fresh air with a hot drink and let them know how you’re feeling.
Make sure you speak to someone outside your home at least once per day. Talking to other people can help support mood and wellbeing and the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is well worth remembering.
Get Some Fresh Air
If you can’t meet someone for a walk, what’s stopping you from getting out there by yourself and having a quick walk around the block before work or in your lunchbreak? (Apart from the great British weather – although that’s what umbrellas and waterproofs are for). Use the time mindfully to notice your surroundings and focus on your breathing or listen to a funny podcast or some uplifting music while you walk. Even 20 minutes per day can make a big difference, with a brisk walk proven to reduce stress and increase concentration levels.
The boundaries between home and work have become very blurred over the last couple of years, with research by Aviva finding that more than 50% of home workers struggle to switch off from work or keep their home life separate from work. ‘Finishing work’ for the day has become a grey area and home and work life can quickly merge into one. Earlier this year, I spoke to psychotherapist Andy Flack about the importance of building boundaries as an important behavioural aspect of mental health self-care.
Andy suggested setting an alarm to signify the end of the working day and then ‘closing the door’ on the home office once you finish work. And if like many people, your work space is in your dining room or bedroom, even the act of putting a blanket over your desk at the end of the day can help signal the transition to your brain and help you to switch off from work.
Once you finish work, turn off your computer and phone and try to enjoy your home environment without social media or digital distractions. Some people choose a specific evening – or even a whole weekend – where they step away from all devices with the aim of reconnecting with themselves and the people around them.
The benefits of a digital detox can include:
- Reducing stress
- Allowing for a more positive perspective on life without the overwhelming constant bombardment of social media
- Better sleep – anxiety, insomnia and stress have all been linked to scrolling social media in bed at night and the blue light emitted from devices can also affect serotonin levels and disrupt your sleeping pattern
- Avoid comparing your life to other people – constantly checking your phone to check you haven’t missed a text, email or notification can increase stress levels and waste a lot of time! Additionally, checking your newsfeed and constantly seeing pictures and videos of other people’s lives can create anxiety, lower self-esteem and distract us from focusing on the present moment and the people around us. Knowing your device is off and you’re not contactable can bring peace of mind, an increased feeling of calmness and allows you to be more mindful and enjoy the present moment which is incredibly beneficial for mental wellbeing.
If a full digital detox seems too much for you right now, why not work towards it by setting yourself a goal of turning your phone off at a certain time every night (or putting it in aeroplane mode). This in itself can help improve mental health and restfulness, reduce stress levels and allow you some breathing space from the pressures and demands of digital life.
A nice meal at lunchtime, a candlelit bath in the evening, a new outfit, taking some time out to meditate or buying yourself a new book. There’s not been a lot to look forward to in recent times but even little things can help. Today I’m wearing my new sparkly Christmas tree earrings, even if they’ll only be seen on a screen during a Teams or Zoom call, sometimes it’s the little things that can give us a lift!
Further help is available
In this article, we’ve covered some of the most basic hints and tips for helping you stay mentally well, but for some people more help and support is needed, especially at Christmas.
The following organisations can all offer guidance and resources at any time of the year;